Trying to Make a Short Film in 48 Hours Made Me Feel Like an Idiot

This weekend I entered the 48 Hour Film Project and realised how inept I am at making films.

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Nov 13 2014, 6:00am

This weekend, I entered the 48 Hour Film Project, an international challenge where each entrant has 48 hours to make a short film. Once you're done, your 4 to 7-minute masterpiece is screened in a cinema, to either adoration or complete and utter contempt.

I paid £110 to enter (even though the grand international prize is a paltry £3,160), so I thought I should probably take it seriously. I soon realised that, even while being very serious, I am not a good enough director, writer or human organiser to make a decent film in 48 hours.

I kept a diary so you too can experience my ineptitude.

Our leading man during a psychotherapy scene (All photos by Nick Hilton unless otherwise stated)

FRIDAY

The Phoenix Artist Club – where the launch was being held – is situated on the Charing Cross Road, right in the heart of the West End. This means the chances of finding any actual "artists" is pretty slim. Arriving there, my assumptions were proved correct: the basement bar was filled with an assortment of bewildered tourists and the kind of stubbly white men who look like they might identify as "visual poets" in their Twitter bios.

I hadn't expected the competition's launch event to be such a jubilant social gathering. All around me, teams of entrants were necking preparatory pints while I sweated out the blistering inner body heat that follows a trip through rush hour London with three bags of film equipment.

Each team was asked to pick a genre out of a hat and then make a film that corresponds to those vague guidelines. These genres ranged from broad (comedy, horror) to specific ("fish out of water", "animal movie") to stuff you have to Google ("Film de Femme"). I picked "dark comedy", which was suitably middle-of-the-road.

As the bar's clock ticked down to 7PM, the crowd assumed their positions like sprinters awaiting the starting gun. There was one team leader sporting both a dense beard and an elegant man bun. Another team's leader was wearing Google Glass and focusing intently on something. Another team, "Hot Chihuahua", couldn't be found, despite the persistent efforts of the compere.

My team were waiting for me at home – Ollie, Director of Photography; Tom, VFX artist; Lucy, first AD; and Joey, our Dutch leading man. With just a few hours to script the film, we were in a real race against time to mitigate the chance of it being completely shit. We didn't win that race; turns out you need at least a couple of days to write and edit a script that anyone might conceivably enjoy.

We also had to work around one of the challenges of the competition, which is to somehow shoehorn a mandatory prop  (in this case a greeting card) and character (a "coach" of some variety) into the script. In order to do this, the plot of our film saw a young man travelling from the Netherlands to a "confidence coach" in London. There, he is given an experimental confidence drug that sees his self-esteem rise and rise until he becomes a godlike figure, looking down on mortals with the crushing disdain of a Reddit atheist.

This is about as excited as anyone got all weekend

SATURDAY

If you can count on anything in the early British winter, it's daylight coming to a close just as the 3 o'clock football kicks off.

With the benefit of hindsight – that mortal enemy of spontaneous creativity – maybe it would have been sensible to factor the dying light into the script, or to have set some of the film at nighttime. But, boldly, we had scripted the entire thing to take place during the bright sunshine hours. On Saturday morning, we waited until about 10AM, when the sun confirmed its non-appearance via the BBC Weather website, and finally decided to start shooting.

The actual shooting bit was remarkably easy. We only had two actors – our strapping Dutchman, who looked like a young, shaved Khal Drogo – and our actress, who was the 2010 Ladies World Backgammon Champion. Neither had a huge amount of experience, but, you know, nor did I.

Amazingly, the weather held until just after we'd finished shooting everything we needed outdoors. We wrapped about 15 minutes before the heavens opened, safe and sound inside while we set about editing the film with one eye and watched the Almería - Barcelona match with the other.

David, our editor, was plugged in for about four hours while the rest of us loitered around uselessly. When he finally showed us the cut of our film, it looked fine. That might sound like a damning adjective to use, but I'm no Kubrick, and where a more fastidious director might have micro-managed the edit until the timing and shot selection were perfect, I'm actually quite happy with "fine".​

Our VFX money-shot, on which we blew about 90 percent of our talent (Image by Tom Coster)

SUNDAY

"Every action must have an equal and opposite reaction," said a man once. If Saturday was our day of smooth sailing, Sunday was our day of realising that you can't polish a turd without several years of formal training.

I decided to have a lie-in until around 11AM, because I figured we'd only need from around noon to get the film finished. I was wrong. First, the arrival of our ambitious VFX shots was delayed by a few hours, which, in turn, delayed locking the edit and starting the colour grade. Simultaneously, without a locked edit, our sound editor couldn't start work on the sound design.

So we sat and waited. We bought some pizzas. I had a "vegorama", which was like 80 percent herbs. Still we waited. We played a co-operative iPhone game called Spaceteam, which involved a lot of distracting shouting. And then, after briefly discussing Tinder, we waited some more.

Tom, our VFX guy, arrived at around 3:30PM with the VFX shots, meaning we should have then been able to start on the sound design. Unfortunately, our sound editor had forgotten the charger for his laptop, which we'd spent the past couple of hours using to keep track of the Newcastle - West Brom score, running the battery into the ground. So instead of using Pro Tools for the sound design, we had to tweak it in Premiere. Again, this is fine, bar the fact the film now makes you feel like you might have tinnitus after watching it through.

The 7:30PM deadline edged closer (the challenge is actually 48-and-a-half hours, but I guess that's a less catchy name) while the edit rendered out with agonisingly glacial slowness. On top of that, it took 25 minutes to copy the file to a USB drive, which meant we had to do that part of the process while travelling back to the Phoenix Artist Club.

Rendering on our way through London (Photo by Ollie Craig)

There was very little ceremony to our arrival, just a few people in the bar – presumably about to head to a showing of Once at the theatre above – and Graham, the challenge's organiser, collecting forms and DVDs. I handed him our film somewhat reluctantly – frankly, the idea of it being "judged" in any manner makes me feel sick – and that was that. There was nothing more to it: no party, no streamers, no ticker-tape parade. Just a man, sitting on his own in a corner booth, vaping and smiling at me.

Forty-eight hours is not enough time to create video "art". I think I can say that quite definitively.

It's a disappointingly non-profound conclusion, but I suspect we achieved little more than creating a short film, somewhere on the average-to-poor axis, quite quickly. However, perhaps the real challenge to be found in all of this is how fast you can realise the limit of your abilities. If so, I think we're in contention. 

​@nickft​hilton

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